What should you look for in a preschool book?
Books are the single most important aid for teachers, as well as parents, in guiding a child’s learning. In my experience, there are ten main benefits of reading books with children. These are to enhance children’s:
- Expressive and receptive language
- Literacy skills
- Recognition of letters, words and symbols
- Research skills
- Respect and Care of books
- Love of Reading
It is important to have read the book beforehand. This helps ensure that when reading it to the children it flows with appropriate tone and volume of voice. It should be dramatized using different voices for each character. This way you hold the children’s attention and interest throughout.
Shorter books can be read through a second time, enabling a discussion about relevant concepts and themes. A second reading also allows you to assess the children’s recall and comprehension. If you would like some ideas on free and easy reading comprehension strategies for preschool children, you can find more information here.
Books can be an effective way to engage less vocal children. I find the best way to do this is by reading books that the child is familiar with. The child may engage by other means, for instance, by pointing to the interesting parts.
I’ve listed my favourite books for preschool children below, with explanations as to why I like them. If you would like to view the book on Amazon, just click the picture.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
This is a classic, well-loved book with colorful and bright pictures. It’s a simple, interactive and accessible book. There are few words and it features clear illustrations which are very appropriate representations of the words. There are many engaging concepts explored which makes the book enticing to revisit and re-read for days.
The key concept explored in the book is the life cycle of the butterfly.
A range of other important concepts addressed include:
- Number concepts and counting
- Sequencing: eg. what the caterpillar eats first, second and third etc.
- Days of the week
- Healthy foods
Where is the Green Sheep?
By Mem Fox
This book is great for anticipation as children know from the title exactly what they’re looking for – the Green Sheep!
The book introduces the following concepts through different varieties of sheep:
- Mathematical concepts for example heavier and lighter, through sheep on a seesaw
- Language; children can take an active part by asking the question, “Where is the green sheep?” at the appropriate pages. On the second reading, the children will be able to read the story using the pictures.
The book is simple yet engaging and holds the children’s attention right until the end.
Children can relate to many of the activities of the sheep, leading to the climax where the sheep is found, fast asleep under a tree. This is the same pattern the children follow throughout their day.
Wombat Stew introduces a variety of exotic native animals from Australia, a country very far away.
The illustrations in the book give the animals personality – and they look realistic, which helps the children learn about different species of animals.
Some of the key benefits of this book include:
- Learning about a foreign culture
- Vocabulary expansion: there are words you can research with the children, like ‘Billabong’
- Concept of teamwork – to trick the dingo.
- Messy play – a fun extension activity is to make your own wombat stew. This will inevitably lead into other experiences.
- Sequencing and dramatization opportunity – children can put items in a pot one by one.
The children love the rhymes in this book; I’ve had classes of children playing independently in the mud kitchen, making their own Wombat Stew and reciting passages like:
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
By Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle
This is a very popular children’s book that is available in several languages. I like to show my children popular books that are available in other languages. If you have children in your class from a variety of language backgrounds, parents are usually happy to get involved and read a familiar book to the class in their home language.
The book features simple, clear fonts and illustrations that are also very colourful.
I love the anticipation that this book brings – asking the children what they see and then waiting to turn the page.
The question, “What do you see?” is repeated throughout the book, inviting the children to join in so that they become familiar with the concept of asking and answering questions.
As friends of the Brown Bear are invited along on the journey, the children recall the sequence of these invitations.
This is an ideal book for dramatization. The repetition of short sentences enables children to recall the text and take on the different roles.
The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear
This is an excellent book for introducing children to the concept of sharing. It features attractive illustrations and minimal text to convey this message. The illustrations are clear and reflective of the narrative.
The children are also required to problem solve – how is the mouse going to reach the strawberry? I like to give the children the opportunity to be creative in thinking of their own ways to solve this problem.
Maths concepts are introduced:
- Concept of big and small objects / heavy and light
- Concept of division: dividing the strawberry into portions for the animals to share
The book induces a range of emotions in the readers, from anticipation to humor. When you dramatize this book it is particularly enthralling for the children. I enjoy using different voices, noises and movements when reading this one!
Room on the Broom
By Julia Donaldson
This book is suitable for preschool children who are able to concentrate sufficiently for a detailed story. As such, consider reading it later in the preschool year or with a slightly older group of children.
The book gives educators the opportunity to read with expression! With the repetition, rhyming and exaggeration in the tone in your voice it will keep the children enthralled! Don’t be shy!
A larger version of the book is also available which enables the detailed pictures to be appreciated and discussed by a bigger group of children, allowing the book to come alive.
Bear in mind that this book has monsters and could be a little scary or daunting to the more anxious children. The book also has a witch – you need to know your families and be sure a witch is not going to offend.
Most of all, this book is an adventure – the children are excited to do magic, cast spells and ride the broom stick.
The Wonky Donkey
The Wonky Donkey is a bit of a twisted book in many ways – but it appeals to the children’s sense of humor!
Children love to read it over and over. You can also get a version with a CD or a downloadable song. As the book is repetitious the children will learn the words quickly. You can then put the CD on and they’ll sing along with it!
The book is:
- Ridiculous – but there’s purpose in it
- Relatable – for example, the Wonky Donkey is always getting up to mischief
The illustrations are simple and of high quality. The children love the humor they convey, especially the illustration where the bird gets knocked out by donkey flatulence!
There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake
This is a great book for involving and engaging children in the experience.
The book is relatable – what child doesn’t like cake?! The concept of eating with the family at the dinner table is referenced, and the food eaten is familiar. Most children can relate to eating a honey or peanut butter sandwich. It’s the hippo’s birthday in the book and this is also a familiar concept the children.
Accordingly, the book enables discussion of healthy foods and introduces the idea of cake as a ‘sometimes food’.
The book allows for ample language and vocabulary exploration. As an extension activity children can create their own stories of where the hippo has gone. Maths concepts of size are also prevalent. Children can use descriptive words to describe the hippo’s size, or even make up their own!
The book can be leveraged to encourage their imagination –. I like making noises so the children think there really is a hippopotamus on the roof! It’s so much fun to see their reaction when they feel like they can really see a hippopotamus on the roof.
He is a friendly hippo who is an imaginary friend that children welcome.
“And instead of being scared by noises at night on the roof, it is much more comforting to imagine that it is your big powerful friend, the Hippo.”
I also like to use this book as a launching pad for a discussion on road safety. The book covers bike riding and not riding on the road. This is a great starting point to cover a variety of aspects of road safety, including encouraging children to only ride a bike if they are wearing a helmet.
The Magic Hat
By Mem Fox
The children are instantly engaged by the title – children love magic – and it gets them excited about going on a journey.
The story empowers the children to use their imagination. I like to lead this to other areas where they can create their own stories.
The book introduces concepts such as:
- Imagination – inviting the children to guess where the hat will land – and turning the page to find the answer
- Rhyming words
- Sequence – of animals, leading up the big conclusion
- New exotic animals – eg. Baboon and Kangaroo
- Different style of illustrations – for example, watercolour.
- Discovering ways of moving your body as suggested by the text, for example Spun
You can continue the story with the children; where else can the hat go? This can lead to discussion, imaginative play and dramatization.
This book might be more appropriate for later in the preschool year or with a slightly older group of children.
The Very Cranky Bear
The book features fantastic illustrations. They appear three dimensional, are fun and show strong personalities for the animals.
The book has rhyming with a fun cadence (’Jingle Jangle Jungle’).
The animals work together to try and solve a problem and demonstrate care towards another animal.
This book offers you the opportunity to talk about feelings and the emotion of being ‘cranky’ as well as how the animals tried to help the bear overcome this. You can relate this to what makes the children feel cranky and explore different moods. Children might be able to relate to a cranky bear that just wants to sleep and is being woken up in the morning when all they want to do is sleep.
Feeling cranky isn’t a nice way to be – the book has a humorous resolution but with a moral: what makes you happy isn’t necessarily what makes your friends happy and it’s important to look at things with another’s point of view. I like to leverage this book to discuss kindness and empathy towards others.
You can supplement this book with my Teddy Bear Bonanza activities.
The Rainbow Fish
By Marcus Pfister
The first thing you will notice about this book is the beautiful cover which features foil stamping on the fish scales.
The moral of this story is based on the premise of how you treat and speak to your friends.
It is suited to preschool children who are able to concentrate sufficiently as it has detailed text and moral lessons.
This book encourages vocabulary expansion as the conversations between the animals use many descriptive words.
I would recommend using the larger version as it adds life to the book.
The Rainbow fish finds himself alone as a result of his selfish attitude. The book explores what happens when you have the wrong attitude and don’t share with your friends. When he realized he had nothing but his beautiful scales he felt lonely.
The other fish were friendly and kind and wanted to play with the Rainbow Fish.
After an insightful encounter with a wise octopus, the Rainbow Fish realizes it’s not possessions or the way you look that matters, but that inner beauty is the most important thing. By sharing with his friends he learns that that sharing brings happiness and acceptance.
Use different voices for the different fish as you read and change your tone according to the message. As well as increasing engagement, you are demonstrating how the tone of voice can impact others’ feelings.
Lastly, children love fish – especially since Nemo!
Who Sank the Boat?
By Pamela Allen
This is a fun book as it explores how a little mouse can cause such havoc. It centers on the question in the title, “Who sank the boat?” It is a simple book but still manages to explore a wide range of concepts:
- Rhyming words
- Sequencing- what would happen if the animals were in a different order?
- Drama – I love to use voices for the different animals as well as making animal sounds
- Science concepts such as floating and sinking, heavy and light
- Maths concepts of size such as big and little
- Language – the children are encouraged to ask and answer questions
This book is a favorite to bring some anticipation and suspense. What will happen on the next page?
What are your favorite preschool books for your class?
If you are as passionate about reading comprehension for preschool children as I am, I recommend you read my book Effective Reading Comprehension Strategies for Preschool Children.